Ice cream headache: Why do you get headaches after eating ice cream?

Watch your intake of cold foods as you might end up with ice cream headache! Let's find out what ice cream headache is and if it's dangerous.
Woman experiences ice cream headache
Yes, ice cream can sometimes give you a headache. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Updated: 17 Oct 2023, 18:26 pm IST
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Nothing like devouring an ice cream, whatever season it may be. In the summer season, it helps you cool down. In the winter gloom, it cheers you up. Whatever the reason for your indulgence may be, have you ever felt your brain freeze or felt headaches after eating ice cream? Well, ice cream headache is a thing.

Health Shots reached out to Dr Ravindra Srivastava, Director of Neuroscience, Primus Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, to know all about ice cream headache.

ice cream headache
Ice cream Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What is ice cream headache?

Many might know this phenomenon as a brain freeze. Technically, it is cold stimulus headache that lasts for a brief time. As the name suggests, it occurs after eating cold foods or drinking beverages such as ice cream or frozen drinks. Dr Srivastava explains that the pain begins a few seconds after the rapid ingestion of cold, and peaks in 30 to 60 seconds.

An ice cream headache typically feels like a sudden, intense headache that can last for a few seconds to a minute. You might feel a sharp or stabbing pain in the forehead or temples. As per Harvard Health Publishing, cold-stimulus pain is quite common as it can occur in 30 to 40 percent of people who don’t generally have headaches. The symptoms are considered to be harmless and not a sign of an underlying disease that you need to worry about.

Causes of ice cream headache

It is clear that when you have chilled food or drinks, you can get brain freeze. The expert says that such headaches are caused by the rapid cooling and constriction of blood vessels in the roof of the mouth and the front part of the head. This constriction triggers pain signals, leading to the headache.

ice cream headache
Chilled foods can give you a brain freeze. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Ice cream headache treatment

This is a temporary stimulus, and not so serious. Dr Srivastava says usually no treatment is required for an ice cream headache. In fact, a brain freeze might be painful, but it is something that goes away on its own quickly. If you don’t want to wait, you can stop ice cream headaches by warming up your palate. This can be done by pressing your tongue against your mouth’s roof or drinking a warm beverage. If you want to prevent an ice cream headache in future, make sure you consume chilled foods or drinks slowly.

Should people with migraine avoid ice creams?

Some people might be more prone to ice cream headaches, but there is no specific group that is identified as universally more susceptible. Some think that people with migraine might find that eating very cold foods triggers their headaches.

But the expert says there is no definitive evidence to show that people with migraines should avoid ice cream or cold foods altogether. Also, a study published by National Library of Medicine revealed that ice cream headache seems not to have any special significance for people with migraine. For this study, 70 people with migraine, and 50 young volunteers participated. The results suggested that brain freeze was less common in people with migraine than the general population.

So, happy licking and enjoying ice cream. But don’t be surprised if your brain freezes for a few seconds!

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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